Overdoing it when it comes to your workout routine can be hazardous to your health

By Markham Heid
Updated: September 13, 2017

No pain, no gain. You know you have to bust your butt if you want to be in great shape. But is there such thing as too much exercise? You bet, says John Gaglione, a strength coach, fitness expert, and founder of GaglioneStrength. "Sometimes you need to back off and take it easy in order to keep making progress," he says. "The more fit and the stronger you become, the more recovery you need."

Of course, everyone's different. So attaching a hard-and-fast definition to "too much" can be tough, Gaglione says. But there are some obvious (and not-so-obvious) signs that you need to give your body a break.

You've Lost Your Gym Mojo

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If you're wondering whether you work out too much, you're probably the type of exercise aficionado who gets excited just thinking about heading to the gym or studio. But if you feel a suddenly absence of motivation, or the thought of exercising isn't exciting, that's a good sign you need to take a break, Gaglione says.

You Can't Sleep

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While new research has debunked the notion that an evening workout can mess with your sleep, there is evidence that a super-tough workout can promote insomnia. When you really push yourself physically, the stress your workout puts on your body can up your levels of certain hormones (such as cortisol), shows research from Germany. Elevated levels of these hormones can leave you tossing and turning, the Germany study authors say.

Your Heart Is Racing

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Experienced athletes keep a close watch on their resting heart rate. Why? It's a good measure of your aerobic fitness, Gaglione says. But even if you're not a serious athlete, checking your resting heart rate first thing in the morning can help you avoid overdoing it at the gym. When you're putting too much strain on your body and ticker, your resting heart rate will jump up dramatically, Gaglione says.

You Feel Weighed Down (Literally)

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If the exercise routines you normally breeze through suddenly seem super difficult, that's a strong sign your muscles or nervous system are crying out for a break, Gaglione says. Ditto if your body feels unusually heavy or sluggish. While normally you'd think, "I need to workout to feel energized," that's not going to go well if you're over-trained, Gaglione adds. (Too late? Learn 6 Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles After Overtraining.)

Long Runs, In the Long Run

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All the above signs are short-term red flags. But too much vigorous exercise may be bad for your health in the long-term.

A 2014 study from the U.K. found the types of molecular changes that take place in the hearts of endurance athletes may cause arrhythmias and other heart-related health issues. A similar study released just last month found people who run most days of the week at a "strenuous" pace have mortality rates similar to those who don't run at all. (On the other hand, the same study found people who run a few days a week at a slow pace enjoy a big drop in mortality risk.)

More research is needed, those study authors say. But there's definitely evidence that you can overdo it when it comes to exercise. "More is not always better," Gaglione adds.

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